Overcoming Customer Portal Object Access Limitations Using Proxies

October 7, 2008 Appirio
If you have ever tried exposing a Campaign, Contract, Lead, Opportunity,
Pricebook, or Product in Customer Portal you have most likely been met
with the dreaded “Insufficient Permissions” screen. Customer Portal hides
these standard objects for obvious reasons (you don’t necessarily want external users to access your organization’s most proprietary data), however, there are times when allowing read-access to these objects would facilitate certain operations. For example, it would be great to expose your product catalog (i.e. Product, Pricebook, and PricebookEntry) to your customers. How can read-access be achieved given these limitations? The workaround described below uses what I will call “proxy classes” that can stand in for these blocked standard objects.

The first step to using a proxy class is to create a custom object through Salesforce’s administrative control panel. This is your opportunity to create an object that contains the fields you want from the standard object plus any additional fields that might be handy such as a formula field concatenating different values or even fields from other classes that you can get to via an object-to-object relationship. The idea here is to create an object that mimics (closely or completely) the standard object that you are otherwise not able to see in Customer Portal. When creating the proxy object the key is to establish a connection to the blocked standard object. This is done by creating a Lookup field on the proxy object that points to the ID field of the standard object. By creating this Lookup, you have now created a foreign key into the standard object. Now you can access other fields in the standard object by leveraging this relationship. In Apex, you can code RelationshipName__r.OtherField to gain access to the other fields…the Lookup you created is the gateway into the object. Remember to enable permissions on the object for Customer Portal users!

Now that your proxy class is created and it mimics the standard object you need to pump some data into it. For an initial data load, use the Apex Data Loader to 1) export data from the standard object into a CSV 2) manipulate the resulting CSV as necessary and 3) map the exported CSV back into an import for your proxy class. An alternative method would be to write an Apex class that loops through the standard object and inserts the data into the proxy class. Use whatever data loading technique you feel most comfortable with.

Armed with a data-populated proxy class you are now ready to expose this data to Customer Portal. You can use this proxy class in place of your standard object in all of your VisualForce pages, tabs, related lists, etc. You are simply using this proxy class that has permissions in Customer Portal in place of blocked standard object. The data is the same (or even customized depending on how you structured the proxy) but now you can see and work with it.

Finally, you will want to keep your proxy object populated with fresh, current data from the standard object. This can easily be done by adding a trigger to the standard object that updates the proxy. Keep in mind that triggers are not allowed on certain classes (for example, Pricebook and PricebookEntry). A creative workaround is to use a batch update as described here.

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